KINGSTON, R.I. — March 6, 2014 — When Aimee Barone first arrived at the University of Rhode Island, she felt both elated and distressed. Happy because she was finally in college, overwhelmed because she was alone, away from family and friends.
“I remember feeling like I didn’t have anyone to turn to,” she says. “That’s a tough feeling when you’re in a new place.”
Then one day, when life was just trudging along, she heard about a student group that helps women find a home away from home on campus. Barone went to a meeting and “instantly felt the love and sense of community” in the room.
WOWW, or We’re Offering Women Wisdom, brought her into the fold – and changed her life. Now a junior, Barone is secretary of the group and one of its biggest fans, crediting it with giving her and other female students a sense of community.
One of the reasons the group is so successful, Barone says, is that older students in the group guide younger ones. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors remain in the organization after joining as freshmen to mentor newly arrived students.
“That mentoring is so important,” says Barone. “It definitely helps having that older girl who has gone through what a new student is going through. They can listen, or just give advice on where to take a shower or eat in the dining hall.”
Founded in 2004, the group has grown from a handful of students to an average of 35 to 50 today. Members meet every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Women’s Center, 22 Upper College Road, on the Kingston campus. No one is turned away, and that appeals to Barone. “It’s non-judgmental and welcoming,” she says.
Barone, of Johnston, was a shy freshman when she came to the URI campus three years ago. Although she knew her roommate in her residence hall, she didn’t connect immediately with other students on her floor. Greek life and athletic groups were not for her. A friend suggested she check out WOWW.
“At that first meeting I liked what the girls were saying,” Barone says. “They seemed caring and generous. It was a great community.”
She went to the next meeting, and the one after that. She teamed up with a mentor, Amelia, who helped her with the ups and downs of college life. The two bonded over coffee and burgers. Amelia even helped Barone cope with a close relative’s breast cancer diagnosis.
“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” says Barone. “She was there for me, just to talk to. It was really great to have an older girl to confide in, and one who really cared.”
Barone thrived among other “WOWW girls” and now relishes her role on the group’s executive board. “You don’t want to be alone on this huge campus,” she says. “I love it when I walk around the campus and see a WOWW girl. It gives me a sense of community. I feel like I fit in.”
Community service brings members together and gives them a way to reach beyond the University. This year, members made Halloween bags for children at St. Mary’s Home for Children in North Providence, donated Christmas toys to a single mother and her four children, made Valentine’s Day cards for an assisted living complex in North Smithfield, and raised money for cancer research during a campus walk.
Members also talk about timely topics relevant to students’ today: study habits; nutrition; time management; stress; campus involvement; sexual assault; domestic violence, and substance abuse.
One of Barone’s favorite events is “Breaking Boundaries,” during which members meet in a quiet room and discuss personal issues in a safe and nurturing place. The bonding is unique – and treasured, says Barone.
That inclusiveness is why Emily Wacha, of Teaneck, N.J., joined when she transferred to URI as a sophomore two years ago. Transferring to a college is tough, says Wacha, since most students have already made friends.
WOWW came into her life when she walked over to a booth not long ago at a student event. The members were welcoming, but not overbearing. “They wanted to take me under their wing,” she says. “First impressions are everything and I thought, ‘These people are just like me.’ ”
Her mentor, Ericka, eased the homesickness with her kindness and generosity. She introduced Wacha to other students, let her stay overnight in her apartment if she wanted a break from dorm life, and offered advice about everything from academics to restaurants.
“Ericka was my family away from home,” says Wacha. “I always had a place to go.”
Now Wacha is the self-confident and enthusiastic recruitment co-chairwoman for the group.
“WOWW is part of me,” says Wacha. “I feel like what makes me a part of URI is WOWW. It’s a place where you can grow and develop. It’s a place where you can be who you are, and what’s more important than that.”
The group has about 100 alumnae, including many who return to campus every year to honor a former member. On April 12, members will gather to remember Lindsay Anne Freeman, of Clinton, N.J., a 2009 URI graduate who died in a car accident in 2011, at the age of 24. The group hands out a “Live.LAF.Love” award to a current member who embodies Freeman’s spirit.
“A lot of the alumnae come back for the event,” says Wacha. “It brings us even closer to WOWW and what it means: unity.”
Members of We’re Offering Women Wisdom, or WOWW, at the University of Rhode Island. For information, please email WOWW@etal.uri.edu.
On left, Aimee Barone, secretary of WOWW, and Emily Wacha, recruitment co-chairwoman for WOWW. Barone, a junior, is majoring in elementary education and psychology. Wacha, also a junior, is majoring in business administration.
Lindsay Anne Freeman ’09, a former member of WOWW who died in a car accident in 2011 and is honored every year by the group.
Photos courtesy of Aimee Barone.